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Rich Table -- An Embarrassment of Riches [SF]

When I was in San Francisco for a bridge tournament for 10 days, Chowhounds were helpful in steering me toward some good options under difficult constraints: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/878772 But I had several days where my meals weren't so constrained. I ate decently to very well at Anchor & Hope, Perbacco, Sentinel, Y and Z, Prospect (for brunch), Sentinel, South Sea Seafood Village, and Taqueria Pancho Villa o Los Coyotes and several other places I've momentarily forgotten.

But my favorite new restaurant of 2012 is Rich Table, where I ate three times in eight nights. One of my favorite chefs in New York, Dave Santos (who just opened Louro in the West Village) told me that I had to eat at Rich Table, and that when they worked together at Bouley in NYC, he was tremendously impressed with Evan Rich's talent. I had no idea that the place was so "hot" or that it was so difficult to get reservations.

I first went with a party of five and we started with all the "bites" and were knocked out by them. If there is one dish that typifies what I love about Rich Table, it is the brandade "bite" (actually a nice-sized portion). I've only eaten brandade prepared with salt cod, but Rich's version is made from trout and swordfish, and it typifies the elegant rusticity of the cuisine. Slathered on the house levain (fennel all week when I went -- now it seems to be sourdough), this is one of my favorite dishes of the year. Looking at today's menu, I'm astonished that so many of the best dishes we sampled are now off the menu. And these aren't necessarily seasonal items. For example, my favorite appetizer was probably the squid salad with cabbage (I believe some of the cabbage was pickled, some not) -- a sort of seafood cole slaw that was light and bracing. I only had one shot at it. Like the Lone Ranger, the squid salad was heroic, and then slithered out of town without a word, not requiring the praise it deserved. I'd be happy to talk about more dishes if anyone cares, but there has already been so much turnover in the menu, I'm not sure it'll help to praise dishes that are no longer available (although I see that the trout entree and caramel panna cotta with coffee crumble dessert that we loved is still available).

Two other times, I walked in right at opening time at 5:30. Once I sat at the bar with a friend (although we were also offered spots at one of the communal tables, andthe other time we snagged a two-top). It isn't true that it's difficult to eat at RT, if you are flexible about where you sit.

I can't emphasize the friendliness and warmth of the service at Rich Table. Far from encountering a virtual velvet rope by the FOH, we were welcomed like long-lost friends without a reservation. Once seated, the waiters were equally fantastic. They were funny, knowledgable about the food, and most unusually, seemed to have all the time in the world to talk about the food and drink.

This is the way I want to eat. In the spirit of full disclosure, I've long been fed up with so many of the elements of fine dining. Compared to this style of restaurant, gastronomic temples like Daniel or Eleven Madison Park in NY feel corny to me. The food is better at Rich Table, it's more fun to spend a couple of hours at RT, and it is much less expensive. What has a tablecloth ever done for me? Or a suit and tie?

Was there anything I didn't like about RT? Perhaps the entrees weren't quite up to the level of the "bites" and "appetizers," but this is grading on a very difficult curve. And we weren't too impressed with the red wines by the glass. On the other hand, the cocktails are great. I especially loved the "Autumn Leaves" -- a rye drink with bitter orange and black walnut.

The stereotype about San Francisco is that it is weak on the high end, but has many terrific middle-tier restaurants. The only thing middle-tier about Rich Table is the price. Evan and Sarah Rich and their staff have so much to be proud of.

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  1. This is a great writeup, dave, thanks much for taking the time. I'm happy to hear that you can walk in reasonably easily. Do you mind sharing how long you waited for a table when you went? And I'd love to hear more about the dishes you had even if they're no longer on the menu.

    Rich Table is at the top of my list for our next visit.

    7 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      Not much drama, grayelf. We were seated immediately all three times I went. But we were there when they opened at 5:30. Two of the three days, we could have easily sat immediately at a communal table or the bar until at least 6:30. Unlike so many FOH people at popular restaurants, the folks at Rich Table seem to WANT you to get seated as soon as possible.

      Two of the best bites are simple and addictive: the Castelvetrano olives with preserved lemons and the radishes with brown butter. I know that olives and radishes w/brown butter are not favorites of many, but if you like either or both, order them before you order (and both go well with liquor). Probably the most famous single dish at RT is the sardine potato chip -- it's a great salt delivery system for sure.

      I'd say the pastas aren't quite as unusual and special as most of the other dishes. I didn't order any for myself, but sampled the tagliatelle and cannelloni that are on the menu now -- both are solid but probably not worth ordering on your first visit.

      If you want a light entree, I highly recommend the trout. lying atop one of the best spaghetti squash preparations I've tried.

      If you have a chance to order the fennel levain, order it. It's one of the best and most unusual breads I've eaten in years. It is served with house cultured butter, but I loved it with the brandade.

      I tried a couple of bites of my friend's sirloin steak. She loved it, and it was delicious, but I'd rather go with the steak tartare with fermented cabbage and pickled mustard seed.

      1. re: Dave Feldman

        Thanks for the deets, dave. Love the salt delivery system comment and the perspective on the pastas especially.

        1. re: Dave Feldman

          Interesting, I had the tasting menu the other night and was I impressed with the food. Of the appetizers/small bites I particularly liked the chicken liver mousse with puffed rice. The anchovy chips were also a good and I was surprised at how much I liked the radish dish. We actually loved the pastas and felt that they were the overall highlight of the meal. They each had a bit of kick to them and the geoduck pasta was a tasting menu only item that had a generous portion of geoduck and a full clam flavored sauce. I believe the pork bolognese is on the regular menu, I'd definitely get it again. Of the mains, we liked the trout. I thought the sirloin steak was good, though not as outstanding as the rest of the meal. The dessert of mint ice cream with chocolate cracker is another one I'd order again. It came with dollops of creamy chocolate in the shape of Hershey's kisses. Overall, the execution here is top knotch, the flavors were interesting and refined. Service was ok, professional and efficient, though not warm and friendly like a neighborhood restaurant.

          1. re: wanderlust21

            I forgot about the chicken liver mousse -- definitely one of my favorite appetizers. The geoduck pasta sounds great -- I didn't realize that the tasting menu offered dishes unavailable on the regular menu.

          2. re: Dave Feldman

            The one thing I didn't like about the pasta dishes (we had 2) was that the pasta itself was a little bit passed al dente. Did you notice this as well? Does anyone know if the pastas are made in house?

            1. re: DezzerSF

              We had the spaghetti w romesco, the pork bolognese and the geoduck pasta. I didn't notice any overly soft texture, but I also dont remember it being al dente (which I prefer). That said, it was the sauce itself and not the pasta noodles that had great flavor.

              1. re: wanderlust21

                Agreed. The ones I tasted were a little past al dente (although, in my experience, cannelloni usually).

        2. I realize it's "Z & Y" and not "Y & Z." And I also had an excellent brunch/lunch at Nopa.

          1. I thought their cocktail program was fantastic. Buffalo, a Bourbon and Branch alumnus, is doing great things here. I had 4 cocktails from the menu, all were seasonal, complex and very balanced.

            1 Reply
            1. re: DezzerSF

              That's a good point about the seasonality of the cocktails. RT doesn't burden customers with the provenance of every ingredient in the menu descriptions, but there is a note: "All of our ingredients are sourced from the best places possible -- if you'd like to know more, just ask."

            2. How did you fare at the bridge table?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Veggo

                Not bad, but not as well as at Rich Table!

              2. Went to Rich Table on Saturday night for our first visit and had a terrific meal from start to finish. We started with the porcini doughnuts; then shared crab Louis; main dishes were a pasta dish with romanesco, smoked trout and persimmon, and the cotechinio house-made sausage with fennel levain. Dessert was an unexpectedly light olive oil cake. Our server was welcoming and fun to talk with--made us feel like regulars, and also gave us spot-on wine by the glass input, both for our tastes and the menu. Have to agree with Dave that this is a real find and I will be back soon.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BAnders

                  Amazing. Not one dish you tried was on the menu a few weeks ago. Except for the bites, only about 15% of the dishes on the menu were. Glad you enjoyed it.

                2. Last month was my chance to try Rich Table. Playing the invalid card, I rolled my mother over in a folding wheelchair, on a drizzly Wednesday night. We thought we were early for a good shot at a walk-in, and seeing others already seated inside before the opening time of 5:30p was a surprise. Staff came to the door to help us up the couple of steps and inside. While I conferred with the hostess to negotiate for a couple seats at the communal table, Mom plunked herself at the closest unoccupied two-top. The staff didn't have the heart to move her from the reserved seats and said they'd make it work. They do indeed go the extra mile even under trying circumstances.

                  Service turned out to be the highlight of the evening for the most part. We weren't as taken with the food. In ordering the popular dishes, our meal turned out to be stultifying and overly rich from deep-frying, cheese, and other sources of fat. Squeezing in something lighter could have made a difference . . . or not. I had ordered with guidance from our waiter and he should have had a clue about this.

                  Sardine chips were interesting, but one per person is enough. These were unsalted, and suffered from that, so quite different from the salt conveyance vehicle you describe. The creamy horseradish dip almost saved them flavor-wise, but serving them already poked in the dip sacrifices the bottom end of the chip to flaccid-dom.

                  Not impressed by the porcini doughnuts. They're greasy, soggy and tough albeit with a good hit of dried mushroom flavor. Like the raclette cheese dip, but again, very fatty and heavy.

                  The brandade was overly rich from inclusion of Comte' cheese. The chiffonade of sorrel gave this a bit of uplift but not enough for something so heavy. This was accompanied by oil-soaked flatbread triangles.

                  The Douglas fir levain had a wonderful scent when brought to the table and the cultured butter was a nice touch. The crumb was very uniform, spongy in texture with a mild tang. But the crust was tough, rather than crispy. Taking the rest home to make toast, this bread did not hold up overnight nearly as well as other local levains.

                  Then we had a 20-minute wait for the next course. The tables on either side of us who had been seated and ordered after we did finished their meals and departed.

                  I'd asked our waiter to choose between two pasta for me to best match my glass of Parusso Barolo. He recommended the tagliatelle with 21-day aged beef and sun dried tomatoes over the truffled pasta. No problems with the texture of the tagliatelle, but the ground meat was so tough and rubbery that my mother couldn't chew it. And hidden in the noodles were tiny diced potatoes fried in duck fat . . . yet more FAT.

                  I thought some of the things were interesting and I enjoyed my glass of wine mightily. My mother disliked everything and did not consider it food.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Interesting. I had dinner here over New Year's, and was greatly anticipating it. We had a pleasant meal with good service on a rainy night, but even then I wasn't dazzled enough to write it up, and now I can barely remember what we ate (rabbit?). Didn't love the sardine chips. Brandade was okay. I expected the bread to be better considering the extra price.

                    I might try it again sitting at the bar, if I had money to burn and an opera to see.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      we loved the porcini donuts. Ours weren't soggy or greasy and the I think the dip was too light for a raclette.

                      They didn't bring us any flatbread for the brandade.

                      The table next to us (two middle aged ladies who we ended talking to) thought their pasta was overcooked.

                      1. re: tjinsf

                        The dip had the flavor of raclette cheese but was cut with something else to make it lighter and not just the traditional pure melted cheese. One of my friends who had been there a couple weeks before and loved Rich Table did tell me that he thought the amount of raclette dip was too small for the amount of beignets. He also remarked that his batch was tough as well. But he liked everything else he ordered.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        Ate there last week for the first time with 3 others. Almost everything was very good to excellent. Had to wait about ten minutes for our 8:30 table on a Monday night as the place was packed.

                        We all enjoyed the sardine chips.

                        The marinated olives were tremendous. I usually hate flavored olives but though these were really well done.

                        The beet salad was a standout, loved the contrast in textures. A lamb pasta (maybe a special) was another standout dish. Pasta was cooked perfectly.

                        I had the pork belly as an entree. Good, not earth shattering.

                        We bought a bottle and a carafe of white and corkage was waived for the wine we brought. Service was very good throughout.

                        1. re: MikeW

                          Here's the corkage policy printed on the bottom of the wine list: $30 corkage fee for every bottle up to 2 bottles (750 ml). Every bottle opened thereafter has a $50 corkage fee - Buy one bottle from our list, we waive one corkage fee for you.

                      3. Hmm...don't know what to say, especially as we had only one dish in common (even the bread and brandade were different from what I ate), and the sardine chip was far from my favorite dish. So it's hard to know if we disagree about similar food or if you experienced an off-night or I was there for three lucky night. But I don't think it is the last. Rich Table has lingered in my mind as among the most memorable meals I ate anywhere last year. I'm sorry you had a lousy experience, and even more that your Mom did.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Dave Feldman

                          Seconding this. Rich Table was also one of my favorite restaurant meals last year. As with Dave, the only dish we had in common was the sardine chip, which I did not love.
                          My dining companion and I both commented several times during the evening on their use of both texture and acid to balance the dishes we were served. We had the tasting menu, which was a lot of food, but left not feeling at all like things had been too rich.

                          1. re: absc

                            Acid, I was crying out for acid, and only finding it in my glass of nebbiolo.

                            I think the moral of this story is that ordering three greasy things from the "bites" menu is not a good meal strategy for two-people. The sardine chip, porcini beignets, and the brandade in a different flavor have continued on to the March menu that's currently on-line, so fair warning that they might not go together well.

                            Is the tasting menu selected from the dishes on the day's menu or different things? I imagine the chef makes better choices to balance the meal than my server did.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              The tasting menu is selected from dishes on the menu.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                It was selected from the menu. I did request the lasagna as a few friends had raved about it, but other than that, they chose. Not only was the meal balanced, but I thought each dish was as well, which is why I was disappointed to read about your experience.

                                I generally choose my own wine, but since we did not know what was coming, I had them pair wines as well and they did a great job with that also. Plenty of acid there as well.

                            2. re: Dave Feldman

                              I don't doubt that you had three good meals there. The difference may be that you were sharing with a larger number of people and had more variety. Dave MP was there shortly after me and posted a more favorable spin,

                              Someone did stop by near the end to ask how they did. I pointed out the long wait for the pasta course and quipped that Rich Table certainly earned its name that night with fat-laden foods.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Having a larger group is definitely a good strategy - I went with a party of 6 a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed my meal. The portions were larger and better suited to sharing than I'd expected.

                                I wish I'd written out our menu immediately afterwards, but forgot too, and as people have pointed out, in changes quickly, but I will reconstruct what I can.

                                Appetizers - we enjoyed the sardine chips and porcini beignets (the raclette is lightened with mashed potato). Our beignets were light and greaseless. I can see how it would be overwhelming to share these between two people (I think there were 5 portions per order of sardine chips, and 7 per order of beignets), but with 6 people, 1 or 2 of each was a treat.

                                Bread - I was not impressed with the Douglas fir levain. It reminded me of the Anadama bread my friend used to make for her co-op in college. Not that it was bad, it just wasn't what I expect, texturally and flavor-wise, from a levain.

                                Appetizers - I remembered loving the lamb tartare, and enjoying everything esle.

                                Pasta - texture was excellent (not soft as in some of the earlier reports), definitely heavy on the butter. I didn't love the chicken lasagna but enjoyed the pasta with lamb and the tajarin with truffles (I was pretty impressed by the amount of black truffle shaved onto the pasta). The pasta course was where I definitely felt the need for acidity - at one point I ran out of wine and was desperately trying to drain the last drop out of my glass to help clear my palate.

                                Mains - I thought all the mains were fantastic. I had read that the Riches met at Bouley, and I had that information simmering somewhere in my subconscious when I went, but I was still surprised at how much the entrees reminded me of Bouley (an earlier incarnation, Bouley Bakery, was my parents' favorite restaurant in NYC). Beautifully executed proteins with deceptively simple sauces, they showcased stellar technique, along with a bit of West Coast playfulness. The best of these was probably the rainbow trout, with a haunting almond milk sauce, and an impeccable brunoise of root vegetable. I honestly don't know when I've ever seen knife work like that in the Bay Area, but also - it tasted amazing.

                                Service was friendly, professional and efficient. I look forward to returning (and will definitely bring my parents the next time they visit).

                            3. Have been wanting to try this place for ages and finally had a chance about a week ago. We started off strong with some very nice olives that had a very mild wasabi paste, some tart cubes of green apple, and seaweed, which led a subtle saline flavor to the olives. Unusual and well-balanced; I couldn't stop snacking on these.

                              Following the advice of our waiter, we also ordered the beet salad. It sounded like a fairly typical beet salad with goat cheese combo, but the dish that arrived was one of the best things I've eaten in recent memory. It came with popped rice, little crispy flecks of quinoa, and the goat component was actually goat creme fraiche, so much lighter on the tongue than the typical goat cheese. It was a very well-balanced dish: savory, texturally interesting, with a nice hit of acid. Really wonderful.

                              My husband wanted the lamb tartare, and despite my reservations, this was actually much much better than I expected. A tangy layer of yogurt cut through the richness of the lamb and the whole thing was delicious on toasted flatbread (though it came with a weirdly unnecessary papadum-like cracker on top).

                              That was the good stuff. After there, I felt like the meal sort of veered off course. We had three pastas. The truffle tajarin was swimming in butter, but my husband loved it. I knew it would not be "my thing" even as we ordered it. I also could barely taste the truffle through the intense application of butter. I only managed a bite of this.

                              We also had some sort of pasta with a slow cooked meat. I can't actually remember much about this dish except that it was incredibly salty and rich. Then we had a smoked trout roe pasta that had about four individual tiny eggs hidden in it. was expecting something like spaghetti con bottarga, but really could not taste the roe at all (it was listed in such a way that it seemed like it would be a major component of the dish).

                              In short, loved the little plates, didn't care for the pastas. Definitely echoing Melanie's sentiment that the mains were simply much too rich. Maybe that's our own fault for ordering three pastas between two diners like greedy pigs (I blame my husband), but next time I'm sticking to the starters and bites.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: possumspice

                                The tables on both sides of us had ordered the beet salad and I lusted for it mostly to have some greenery and acidity. When we had the long wait, I toyed with the idea of cancelling our pasta and getting that salad instead. Would have if our server had been available.

                                I'm not a fat-phobe nor dairy-hater. Far from it. Reading your description of the beet salad and the lamb tartare, both included dairy but in tangy versions that probably helped a lot.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Based on my experience, you definitely would not have regretted that decision. :)

                              2. finally got to try Rich Table. People had mentioned how hard it was to get a table but I had no problem get a reservation for 2 at 7pm on a Monday a week in advance. The place was completely full the entire time we were there so I think advanced reservations are the way to go.

                                I agree with everyone saying the bites and the apps are the way to go and I wish we had been there with a couple more people so we could try more dishes and not fill up on the bites and the apps.

                                We didn't have any delays or lags between meals and our servers was attentive but not always around. We got two dishes at a time without telling them how we would like them coursed.

                                Dishes we had:
                                Bread-the spouse, a European Bread snob liked it, I was happy we got it since we ordered the brandade and there was no bread with that (which I find odd).

                                1. Donuts (7)-honestly this was one of our favorite things. Just perfect light beignets. The porcini mushroom flavour wasn't that strong but there was an earthiness that a sweet donut doesn't have. There was nice serving of what they were calling raclette but it wasn't warm or that cheesy. Still it was great with the donuts.

                                2. Sardine Chips (7)-loved these too and plan on making some in my deep fryer. nice and crisp.

                                3. Brandade (8) we had to try this since we both grew up eating it. It's wasn't as thick as I like it, it's probably the first one I've had not made with salt cod and it could have used more oil olive. don't think I would get it again. They put the crumbled chicken skin in a little bowl since the Spouse doesn't eat land creatures. It added the salt needed for the dish.

                                4. Scarlet turnip soup, vadouvan, black radish (10) Spouse loved this and didn't want to share. It did have lots of rich deep flavours as you'd expect using vadouvan. Nice to see it in US restaurants. Never understood why it's so uncommon here.

                                5.1/2 dozen oysters (18), nice and well prepped, the mignonette has some peppers in it and a real kick.

                                6.Roasted Potatoes, to fu miso puree, arugula salsa verdi.(19). this was super sized side dish and I found it lacking in ingredients and boring. The formely veggie Spouse thought it was great but was wishing for some protein in it. The puree was more a sauce and there wasn't a ton of it. The roasted potatoes were sweet and white large fries.

                                We ended the meal with the sweet donuts (9) with bourbon sauce. It was a large portion and super tasty again but more than two people could eat and the sauce had way too much alcohol in it with such a harsh taste that overpowered the cream of the sauce.

                                We also got two housemade non-alcohol refreshers (5 each) that were meh. One too sour, one too sweet.

                                All in all, we spent more than we expect considering we only got one entree but we really liked almost everything we got and we'll probably go back regularly. I probably will watch the bill a little bit closer next time.

                                I don't really care much for upscale comfort food but Rich Table has taken it and made it interesting.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tjinsf

                                  Haha! You ate #1, 2 and 3, didn't collapse under the fat, and lived to tell the tale. Thanks for sharing.

                                  (And I'm glad to hear yours weren't greasy.)